Taken and adapted from, “Pulpit Eloquence of the Nineteenth Century”
Edited by, Henry Clay Fish and Edwards Amasa Parks
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land, unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani? That is to say, My God, my God, why hast you forsaken me?”
—Matthew 27:45, 46.
Several times already had the great High Priest [Jesus] opened his mouth upon the cross.
First had he turned the eye of his mercy upon those cruel mockers and tormentors, who, in that hour of agony, encompassed him as ravening and roaring lions, and asked for them mercy and forgiveness: ” Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” O! What a glimpse do these words give us into the inconceivable love which glowed in his heart! The next word he addressed to that dying penitent on his right hand, and it was a word of sweetest promise; a word of unutterable consolation: “Today shalt you be with me in paradise.” And then he turned to his mother and to the disciple whom he loved, who lay in his bosom at the last supper, and bound them both in the bonds of filial and maternal love. And now was it the sixth hour. It was midday, but behold!” there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.” For three whole hours the anointed hung upon the cross in unbroken silence; wrapped in darkness, without one single ray of light and peace. The bleeding Creator of the sun itself sees no light; the helper of all must weep without help; but his cry of anguish arrests the course of nature! Surely here is a deep, an unfathomable mystery.
Yes, these terrors of Christ loudly declare that here is holy ground.
Only in deepest adoration, only in the abasement of self-condemnation, can we venture to approach and gaze. Praying and trembling, we enter this holy of holies; in deepest reverence, supplicating for grace, we contemplate,
I. In the first place; The forsaken One himself.
II. In the second place; The end of his being thus forsaken.
III. And finally; The fruit of this abandonment.
I. Who is this forsaken One?
Behold him, as he hangs upon the ignominious tree! Blood is flowing from his wounds—from his opened veins. The crimson stream flows down from his head, his hands, his feet, his sides. His face is marred more than any man’s, and there is none to comfort, none to pity. A great multitude stand around the cross; among them are found the respected, the learned, the noble: chief priests, scribes, and elders; but their lips are like the lips of the rabble, full of bitter mockery and scorn—full of malice and blasphemy. Their cruel hands, indeed, can no longer reach the man of sorrows; but the tongue knows well how to twist the knotted scourge, to send forth the spear and the sharp arrow. One poisoned cup of mockery after another is presented. Unceasing are the torments of his body—inconceivable the agonies of his soul. Forsaken by the whole world—this he might have borne. Deserted by the little band that had “continued with him in his temptation”—this was hard to bear. Alas! What pain even to us, faithless sinners, as we are, when, in the day of need, and of adversity, the friends whom we had fondly deemed true, turn from us coldly and faithlessly! And yet even this sorrow might be endured. But what is told us here? God himself, that God who is love, who said, “You art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;” that God who has promised to those that keep his covenant, that he will never leave them nor forsake them; the God of all grace and mercy, forsakes his Son! His Son? His only Son? Him whom, he loves? Is it possible? Should not we rather say, that this bleeding one, hanging upon the accursed tree, and crying amid the darkness, “My God, my God, why hast you forsaken me,” must be the vilest wretch that ever trod this earth? Is this the last end of the righteous? Is this the reward of innocence and spotless purity? Is this dealing justly to suffer the holy One to die as a felon? The martyrs counted not their lives to be dear unto them; for the sake of Jesus they joyfully exposed themselves to the most dreadful tortures, and were led to the stake and the pile of burning, rejoicing that they were thought worthy to suffer for his name; and, meek as the lamb before its slayer, they poured out their life-blood under the knife of their enemies. But they were not forsaken of God. We hear them praising him amid the flames. The Father-heart of God is open to them; the everlasting arm of the great Deliverer is beneath them; the Son of God walks with them, even as of old with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the fiery furnace; and though “their heart and their flesh failed them, yet God was the strength of their heart and their ‘portion forever.” But here all sources of comfort are dried up; here Satan, the power of darkness, seemed to have free course, and the life of this forsaken One is as the fife of those that go down into the pit of inconceivable torment. Is this the fruit of his transgressions? The due reward of his misdeeds? Is the accusation brought against him just? Was he indeed a blasphemer? Was he guilty of death? Was the rod justly broken upon him?
But no! This be far from him. “He knew no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. He “was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” He glorified his Father; he was always about his Father’s badness; it was his meat and drink to do the will of his Father; he was in the Father, and the Father in him. His whole life was a life of holiness; never had he, even in thought, transgressed the law of God; “he was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Zeal for the house of the Lord consumed him; he went about doing good; to save, to help, to bless, was the element of his whole earthly life. Perfect was he, and perfect he remained, even as his Father in heaven is perfect.
Such was he; and yet he exclaims in unutterable anguish: “My God, my God, why hast you forsaken me?” O, then, wonder not if I shrink in trembling awe from this abandonment by the Father! Blame me not if I own that here is an event which seems to involve in impenetrable obscurity all the attributes and all the dealings of God. Can the God of love thus forsake the Son of his love? Can almighty Justice thus deal with innocence? Does the omnipresent thus depart from him who is faithful even unto death? Is it thus that the covenant-keeping God fulfills his own promise: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. When you passes through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when you walk through the fire you shalt not be burned, neither shall the flames kindle upon thee?” Is this Lis faithfulness, that he yields up the faithful in all things, yea, the only faithful, a prey to the most fearful pains of the most painful death, and wholly withdraws from him his presence, his consolation, the consciousness of his love and his favor? Is not godliness itself a mere dream, when the holy One is thus forsaken? Is not all trust in the covenant keeping faithfulness of Jehovah a mere delusion, when God withdraws from his Son his love and his grace? Is not the question, “My God, my God, why hast you forsaken me?” a question which, from everlasting to everlasting, must remain an unsolved mystery?
II. No, my beloved; through the mercy of God we have had this mystery revealed to us. In the painful judgment of self-condemnation, the wondrous enigma is solved. When once the blind eye of our spirit is opened, we discern, in the light of grace, the lofty end of the abandonment of the Son of God.
Wherefore, then, was the innocent Lamb of God thus utterly forsaken of God? Wherefore did his heavenly Father hide his face from him? Wherefore must the almighty Jesus be so weak, the visage of the spotless One so marred, the Helper so helpless? Because he, as all the prophets of the old covenant and all the apostles of the new testify, was delivered up for our transgression; because he, constrained by the compassion of his loving heart, suffered in our stead, and bore the punishment our sins deserved in his own body on the tree. And who are we? Are we not all universally rebellious children—” children that are corrupted” —that have forsaken the Lord, the God and Creator of their lives, the supreme good—the only good? O yes! when sin allures, when gold and gain are to be won, when fleshly lusts are to be gratified, and earthly honors to be obtained, then do we eagerly go forward; then is there no road too long, no way too toilsome, no sacrifice too painful; but we inquire not after God: he is not in all our thoughts. Thus we go on in our natural state—God-denying, God-forgetting men—following the dictates of a depraved will, following the counsel of a darkened understanding, speaking our own sinful words, and working our own works of darkness; and we think not that the holy presence of God is, as the air, around us and about us; and we glorify not the God “in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways.” Far from our Father’s house, cut off from communion with him, excluded from his grace, we are still at ease, and tremble not even for an instant before his awful majesty. Our idols, “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life,” are sufficient for us; we feel no need of reconciliation with God—of reunion with God. Alas! There is not one among us all who has not, like the prodigal son, forsaken his God. Every sin which we commit, is an abandonment of God; and as oft as we have thought, or spoken, or acted, without reference to him, and fellowship with him, so oft have we forsaken him. And even those among us who, through the grace of God, have been born again, created anew in Jesus Christ, even they must acknowledge, in deep self-abasement, that ever since their conversion, they also have, daily and hourly, shamefully forsaken the Lord their God. And this desertion is a transgression that reaches unto the heavens—a sin of deepest dye, that calls for vengeance—an ingratitude so vile, that by it alone we have a thousand times deserved inexorable and everlasting banishment from the presence of the Lord. Is not this forsaking of our God the fruitful parent of all our countless transgressions?
When, therefore, the Son of God, as our surety, exposed himself for us to bear the penalty of God’s violated law, he must, when wrestling with death, be forsaken of God. Standing in our stead, he must feel the whole weight of the wrath of God, and in the judgment of God be regarded as one who has departed from God. He that defies the omnipotent God—that will not hear the all-wise God, that cares not for the omnipotent God, that makes the God of truth a liar, ” despising the riches of his goodness and mercy,” and repaying his love with base ingratitude—surely he well deserves to be forsaken of the everlasting God —to be overwhelmed by the weight of the wrath of God, who “is not mocked.” And, as such, did our Lord Jesus Christ, as our representative, stand before God, and therefore was he forsaken of God.
We cannot comprehend this desertion by God; it is beyond our every faculty, and every conception. Suffice it to say that the Son of God feels here the enormous weight of all that our sins deserved; the mercy of God is hidden from him; he feels only his wrath, and nothing of his grace and loving kindness. Though we comprehend not how it was possible for the holy, undefiled Son of God, thus to be loaded with that abominable sin which he hated, and thus to pay its full penalty, it is yet certain that he was here “made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;” that “the deep waters” of the terrors of God went even over his soul; that the thick clouds of deepest anguish were heaped up, one above another, till at last all the terrors of eternity, all the pains of hell, all the wrath of divine justice, were concentrated in the agony that forced from him the cry, “My God, my God, why hast you forsaken me?”
Come hither, then, ye sinners, who would make of the living God a weak Eli, winking at the transgressions of his rebellious children! Come hither, ye impenitent sinners, who, with a few prayers and a little almsgiving, would purchase heaven!—come hither, and learn in the abandonment by his Father of Christ on the cross, that the wrath of God, that his holy indignation against sin, is no empty threat! If the great God spared not his own Son, but suffered him to feel the unutterable pangs of his avenging justice, how shall ye escape the threatened damnation of hell?
But come hither, also, ye despisers of God and of his word, who have turned from his ways to walk in your own way—that way whose end is death; come hither and see how ardently the loving heart of God desires the redemption of the most sinful, the most wretched. Behold in the hiding of his face from his beloved, a manifest proof that he is ready to lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and to blot out your unnumbered sins. Does he provide such a sin-offering as abundantly satisfies his justice? O doubt not then his perfect willingness to receive you into the bosom of his compassionate love! Here, in this desertion by God of the Lord Jesus Christ, beams forth upon us not only the justice of God, but the fullness of his mercy in a divine radiance, sufficient to dispel every shade of doubt as to his desire “to save to the uttermost them that come unto him.” Now is the great gulf that separated condemned sinners from a holy God, henceforth and forever so filled up that we may, with joyful hearts, fearlessly pass over it into the arms of a reconciled God—a loving Father.
But this leads us to the third point we had proposed for consideration: a still further contemplation of the fruits of this abandonment of Christ.
These fruits are precious above all price; but they are only for the penitent sinner, for believing hearts, for the poor in spirit, for “those that hunger and thirst after righteousness.” We speak not now to you, proud sinners, who still turn your backs upon the Lord, and by presumptuous sins are still daily pouring contempt upon God and his laws. To you we must repeat the words of Christ, and may the Spirit of God re-echo them in thunder-tones in your ears: “If these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” Ye shall not see God, “for your sins,” as Isaiah saith,” have hid his face from you.” To you it is not said, nor, unless you repent, will it ever be said, “Come, ye blessed of my Father.” Alas! To you rather belongs, in all its terrors, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” No; so long as your eyes are still unopened to see how “your iniquities have separated between you and your God,” so long as you come not to Jesus, self-condemned, in contrition of heart, and in faith that he alone can save,—he alone deliver,—even so long the fruits of this abandonment of Christ belong not to you. Only when we are made to experience somewhat of being forsaken of God, as Christ was; only when we bitterly feel and humbly acknowledge that we well deserve, for our multiplied transgressions, to be forsaken of God; only when, in the conviction of that utter helplessness which self-knowledge brings with it, we turn from the broken cisterns of human consolation, and as wretched, hell-deserving sinners, prostrate ourselves at the lowest step of the throne of God—then only do we become partakers of the glorious fruits of this abandonment of Christ. But to you, who are thus self-condemned as vile sinners, to you, highly favored souls, who have been given to see in the desertion of Christ your merited curse, and whose heart’s conviction, through grace, it is, that only free, unmerited mercy could have plucked you as brands from the burning—to you belong the precious fruits of these death-pangs of our surety. O! Lay hold of them joyfully, and suffer neither Satan nor your own evil heart of unbelief to keep you back.
This abandonment of Christ on the cross is a bridge of God’s own construction; firm as the rock, never to be destroyed. It is the passage from the region of the shadow of death, into the abode of everlasting light and everlasting peace. We may tread it with firm step, confident, rejoicing in the name of the Lord; however the waves of our transgressions may roar, and rage, and swell, this bridge defies the roaring torrent and the swelling flood.
The abandonment on the cross is a deep gulf, an unfathomable abyss, to which we may cast all our anxieties, all our cares, all our sins— even those of deepest dye, even those that are grown up into the heavens—and they shall no more be found, but shall be hidden forever and ever.
In this abandonment of Christ, a pledge is given unto us by the eternal God himself, that he will never more abandon those debtors for whom the surety thus paid all the debt. He may indeed, at times, hide his face from us, and appear as though he would never again manifest himself to help and bless. But it is “for a small moment;” with great mercies will he gather us; his bowels are again “troubled for Ephraim,” and he will surely have mercy upon him.
Again. This abandonment is a charter of our citizenship in heaven— passport thither—a privilege which we may plead before the judgment throne. The effectual power of this abandonment of our surety and propitiation is so infinite, that we may fearlessly stand in the judgment. We shall be judged, but shall not be condemned, for “there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” They have already been judged, have already borne the curse, already been forsaken of God in their surety. Therefore, “rejoice greatly, O Zion; shout, 0 daughter of Jerusalem; make a cheerful noise unto the God of Jacob, ye children of the living God;” to you the great day of the Lord will be a welcome, a blessed day, when you shall pass into the kingdom of God, there forever to see, and love, and praise him.
Still further. The abandonment of Christ on the cross is a key wherewith we may open to ourselves the secret chambers of communion with our God. No longer need we stand like slaves, trembling without; we are no more strangers, no longer afar off, but have been brought nigh to be fellow-citizens with the saints, and to receive the adoption of children. The high and holy One has become our Father, who takes us into his arms, and to his heart, as dear children, and sends “forth the Spirit 01 his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”
And does anyone ask how we dare draw near with such boldness, and hope in him so confidently, and speak to him so freely of all that is in our heart? We point to our crucified Surety, and reply, “Because he was forsaken for me, and in my stead.” Here is my peace. “The mountains may depart, and the hills be removed, but the covenant of peace,” confirmed by the blood of the Lamb, “shall never be removed,” but stands fast forever and ever!”